Washington DC with Teens - Trip Report

Feb 22nd, 2007, 06:54 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 311
Washington DC with Teens - Trip Report

We just returned from a weekend in Washington with our 14 year old twins. Thanks to the many posters who made suggestions – our trip was short, but we had a great time. We tried to keep this a budget trip, but didn’t make ourselves crazy either. Every sight we went to was free. We had gotten a nice deal at the Fairmont, which is what made us pick Washington for this spur of the moment long weekend. Our last trip to Washington was almost 4 years ago. We decided to drive to keep the costs down and left on a Saturday morning from Boston. I naively estimated the trip to take 7 hours – but it took 10. It was a long car ride. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for a long weekend driving from Boston. We took the train the last time, which was great getting down, but awful returning. The train is also a lot more expensive than the tank of gas and tolls that this cost us in transportation. One interesting observation was the weather was exactly the same (cold!) as the weather we left behind at home!

We arrived at the Fairmont after 5. There was an issue of our room being “near the construction area”, but we took it anyway. By the time we got settled, it was time to go to dinner. A short 5 minute walk over a bridge brought us into Georgetown with many great choices for meals (this ended up being one of our fondest parts of the trip!) We stopped at the first place we came to, which was an Indian restaurant. My daughter and I shared a vegetarian platter – everything we ordered was delicious. I thought it was odd that the restaurant wasn’t more crowded, but by the time we left, it was pretty much full. We checked out M Street before heading back to the hotel. We thought we’d go for a swim, but the concierge had given us the wrong closing time on the hotel pool, so we called it a night.

Up early the next morning, we stopped at a café before walking to Ford’s Theatre, with a stop to view the White House. It was odd to see it with snow! It took a few minutes to get to Ford’s Theatre. This was highly recommended by previous posters, and I have to agree that it was a worthwhile stop. It was crowded with school groups when we got there, but we were able to look at the museum (small, but interesting) before hearing the talk. Afterwards we took five minutes and walked through the boarding house across the street where Lincoln died.

We walked right over to the National Building Museum (also recommended by posters). This was my kids’ favorite place. They liked the Venetian architecture and the display of The Green House (a sustainable home display, architects models and photos of green living). We didn’t buy anything at the gift shop, but it had some great things as well.

We grabbed a quick Mexican lunch (shared portions) before heading to the National Archives. There was a long line which we stood in for 10 minutes, but we never saw it move. We decided to try later and went to the National Gallery. My daughter led us through the “one hour” tour of the highlights. We lingered in some areas and admired the garden courts. You could easily spend a day here. It was busy, but not too crowded to see any piece of artwork up close. We enjoyed the drawings of Rembrandt and the Paris photos.

Our next stop (walking) was over to the Museum of the American Indian. The architecture was very interesting. This was very crowded and most of the displays are in small areas, making it difficult to see. You could get a sense of traditions and viewpoints.

We tried the National Archives again, same line length, still not moving. We started the trek back to the hotel by way of the WW II Memorial, which was just being built on our last trip to Washington. It must be very pretty with fountains. On this bitterly cold afternoon, there were only a couple visitors besides us. It snowed on us as we were walking back to the Fairmont.

We didn’t want to miss the hotel pool this time, so we decided to swim before dinner. After walking in the cold all afternoon, a swim didn’t exactly sound like something we were dying to do, but it really rejuvenated us to walk back to Georgetown for dinner. This time we were looking for Café LaRuche (recommended by a poster). I had my directions confused, and we never did find it that night. We ended up at the Piccolo Ristorante which looked very inviting with its colored lights on that cold night. Inside there were crackling fires, however, we were seated by the window (drafty!) under the stairs. We said we felt like Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs. I put a napkin over the draft. It became apparent to us that this looked like a bit of a “date place” (hence our table under the stairs) and it was quite busy. It was also pricey, so we stuck with pasta and drinks – no side dishes, no dessert…. The food was excellent – flavorful, but not heavy and just the right amount. We had a very cold walk back to the hotel. It was only five minutes, and you would think our New England blood would be used to the cold. (My theory is that it has been so cold in New England, that we weren’t used to being outdoors so much.)

I hadn’t set an alarm because I never sleep late – and I was also assuming there would be morning construction. I was shocked to see that we all slept until 8:30 (that is really late for all of us). Monday was President’s Day, so we were heading out to Mount Vernon in the car. Us and thousands of others…. I don’t even think an early start would have helped much…it was CROWDED. We parked about ˝ mile away and walked in. There was no charge because it was President’s Day. In hindsight, I would have gladly paid if it had been less crowded the day before. We waited in a very long and cold line to see the mansion. It was definitely worth the wait. I found it interesting to see the key to the Bastille hanging on the wall – a gift from General Lafayette.

We walked the property, but at this point, it was hard to get warm (after the long wait in the line). The property is stunning – you never picture it with snow, so it was interesting. The museum was also quite well done.

It was well past lunch time, so our next stop was Old Town, Alexandria on our way back to the city. We arrived at the tail end of a parade – so we had to pay $9.00 to park (a bit steep, but between the parade and the snow banks, not a lot of options). I immediately located The Fish Market, a place I went to 30 years ago with friends. My vegetarian daughter was not pleased at all even though they gave her a nice salad and side dishes. It was as I remember it and I got a kick out of seeing the mural still there. (I have a picture of myself (much younger!) with my friends in front of that same mural. It was basic fish – quite good, not healthy. My son and I split a platter.

It was getting late, so we didn’t spend much time in Alexandria after lunch. We went to Arlington National Cemetery. I had never seen the Eternal Flame or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a 20 minute hike up the hill, but very beautiful with the sun setting. We stayed for the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, moving and solemn. As it was after 5pm, they told everyone to exit right away after the ceremony. We got back to the hotel quickly and hit the pool.

As this was our last night in Washington, we gave Café LaRuche another try (I called for directions!) We had a very enjoyable and affordable meal. We loved that you have to cross a tiny bridge to get to it, and we appreciated the ambiance and décor. We just had quiche and salad. We had room to split a couple desserts and espresso. We had also wanted to try Zed’s Ethiopian restaurant, but simply ran out of time on this trip. It looked terrific.

We checked out of the hotel at 7am the next morning and drove over to Union Station (not the smartest idea, as we would see) to go on the Capital tour at 8:20. (I had tickets from our US Rep). It was a long walk to the tour kiosk. As the kids insisted on cocoa and croissants before the tour, they had to carry this on the walk over. Because of construction, we had to take a detour to get to our kiosk….which meant we had to run. They were not happy campers running with cocoa splashing around. We got to the tour line with 5 minutes to spare. The tour was short and informative, with a humorous guide. We proceeded on the brief House tour.

At this point, we decided to try the National Archives one last time. It wasn’t open yet and we were first in line! No problem getting in and we enjoyed seeing the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Magna Carta and National Vaults. Very impressive!

At this point, it was time to sadly depart Washington. It was a long walk back to the car (we obviously did not park in a convenient location). The drive home was uneventful (that is a good thing). One funny thing, we checked the website roadfood.com for a place to eat going home. My husband mapped out a deli in Edison, NJ. The map was a mess and we never came close to figuring out where this deli was. On the bright side, we got gas and it was the cheapest price we had seen ($2.05/gall). Washington is a city where on any given visit, you feel like you can only etch the surface. I am always impressed with the accessibility of the city and the profound sense of history. There is also a sense of pride evident in the guides and residents.
carolv is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2007, 07:49 PM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 17,802
You guys are such hardy and dedicated tourists! Thanks for a fun report on one of my favorite cities.
NewbE is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2007, 04:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Great trip report! You brought back many fond memories of my college days, hanging out at Cafe LeRuche and drinking schooners of beer and singing in the Fish Market.
Ann41 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2007, 08:39 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 4,254
I loved your report. We love to bum around DC too.

We went to Zed's Ethiopian about a year ago. The servers were very friendly and we enjoyed the environment very much. I expected to love the spongy bread, but found it wasn't really to my taste at all. The toppings on the bread were pretty good. It was a fun experience for our family.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2007, 10:05 PM
Join Date: Sep 2004
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Beautiful and interesting trip report carolv. My grandson went back to Washington DC (age 15) as a guest of a former school friend. When I asked him what was the most impressionable sights that he saw he said "The Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetary". He almost got a tear in his eye telling us about these two places. It really touched my heart. His mother, my daughter, spent a month there after graduating from 8th grade as her older brother and wife were there. I wish all of our children could visit Washington DC. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.
LoveItaly is offline  
Feb 24th, 2007, 06:46 AM
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I'm glad my trip report sparked some fond memories. I wish Washington was closer to Boston - I'd definitely go more frequently. The memorials are all awesome - we did the entire walk 4 years ago. If we had had more time and if it had been warmer, we would have done it again this trip. One of my favorite pictures that I've taken is "I Have a Dream" taken with a wide angle lens with the pools in the background.

One thing that made a big difference this trip was that teenagers have a lot of stamina! It was nice to repeat this trip and see the kids enjoy it with a different perspective. And it's really hard to wear out a teen!

I do have to correct myself on my trip to the Fish Market. It was 25 years ago. I was there in 1982, but the mural was signed 1976 (I just happened to notice that since I had asked the server to seat us by the mural.) My girlfriends and I had a beer or two that evening (April 1982)....what a blast into the past to return! : )
carolv is offline  
Jun 28th, 2007, 02:04 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
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We also had a 14 year old in our family/friends group. She really enjoyed the Holocaust Museum -- spent 4.5 hours there!
Young teens (and certainly children) need to be warned that the waist high barriers in front of certain exhibits at the Holocaust Museum are there for a reason. Parents will want to preview the video behind the barrier before letting their children watch as some are very disturbing (as you would expect). She really liked the taped interviews of survivors of the Holocaust (which is in the last room of the Permanent Exhibit). Tickets are free, but are required. We got ours online a couple of weeks before the trip (June 2007).

And she liked the Audio Tour (in conjunction with the TourMobile) at Arlington National Cemetery. Since she has not studied U.S. History in school, per se, she is ahead of the curve and understands much more of the historical significance of the events she experienced through the Audio Tour ... $5 for an iPod available at the Gift Shop in the Visitor's Center. TourMobile tickets were purchased at the Visitor's Center, as well.

The Audio Tour added "color" and drama which added so much to the experience. Our 21-year-old liked the Space Shuttle Challenger story as he was born the day it exploded. My favorite was Audie Murphy because the narrative was about a letter of commendation he wrote describing the heroic acts of his superior (who received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously). Everyone enjoyed the JFK story which included patriotic music, part of Kennedy's speech, and then ... the sound of the shots that killed him ... very moving.

We bought the 2-day passes for the TourMobile for $35 while we were at Arlington Cemetery and rode around the city on the shuttle until they closed at around 4:00 p.m. then we used the Metro. One day we rode the Circulator bus for $1 from the WW2 memorial up the mall towards the Capitol -- free transfers. While it saved walking back to the Metro stop at the Smithsonian, it let us out at the bottom of the Hill and we now know why they call it Capitol Hill! Wish we would have gotten off closer to a Metro stop and ridden it to Union Station - a much shorter walk and possibly on level terrain.

We got to see Vice President Cheney swear in the new senator from Wyoming, Dr. Barrasso, which eveyone enjoyed. If you go to the Senate Gallery, I suggest leaving your backpacks and purses in the senator's office so that you don't have to wait in line to check them at the coat-check.

The teens/young adults in our group also enjoyed the FDR memorial as we talked about the significance of the waterfalls and the art in the exhibit. Stop in the gift shop for info.
CindySmeltzer is offline  
Jun 28th, 2007, 06:46 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,549
I am a licensed guide in DC (now licensed for French language tours as well as good ol' English). I always enjoy reading these trip reports.

Please note that Mount Vernon is free on Washington's Birthday observed--which means it is guaranteed to be crowded. Anyone going to Mount Vernon should not miss the education center. There is a multimedia show in there that will knock your socks off. It is the best multimedia show in the Washington area bar none and 80% or more of the visitors to Mount Vernon never see anything but the house, the view over the Potomac and maybe the tombs. When the new education center opened last winter, I spent 4 hours at Mount Vernon in the new eduation center and museum (The museum is interesting too). There are a lot of multimedia exhibits in the Education Center--not just the multimedia show. The whole business really brings to life our first president. It also changes the amount of time you should budget for the site. To see the house, the tombs, the view and the multimedia show you need to budget at least 3 hours. If there is a line for the house, you might have to budget 4 hours.

I do agree on the Changing of the Guard and the view from the Lincoln Memorial being moving, but I would add the tour of The Capitol and the Ford's Theatre. Ford's is unfortunately presently closed for renovations.

Please read up on The Capitol before you go. The misinformation given out by both the supposedly professional tour guides--not to mention the history major interns in all the offices--is stunning. It is also appalling. You go there with a bunch of people, and, if you know your stuff, you just want to scream. I have seen knowledgeable tourists roll their eyes. I am hopeful that the new Visitor's Center at The Capitol will resolve some of the problems, but, quite frankly the whole situation is an embarassment; this is perhaps the most famous and moving building in the world and the tours should be something to remember (and not for the mistaken historical "facts" you were fed). Now, you might luck out and get a knowledgeable professional guide but my experience indicates that the odds do not favor it. I guess there is not an interest in running The Capitol tours in a more professional fashion. Of course politics figures into the running of the place.
FauxSteMarie is offline  

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